Harry mentally berated himself after he had run onto platform 9¾, because he was pretty sure a muggle had seen him. Sirius was certainly too laid back to berate him. He searched for his friends, turning round every so often to check Sirius was still behind him.
Suddenly, he caught sight of a ginger head above everyone else's, and grinned as he headed towards Ron. Ginny would be pissed, she hated being the shortest by miles- and there she was, next to Ron, arguing with Mrs Weasley about something. Ron spotted Harry and poked Ginny, interrupting her tirade, so they could get on the train together and get a carriage.
Harry turned round and hugged Sirius firmly but briefly, taking his suitcase and Hedwig's cage. He made for the train, then turned, looking horrified.
"I've got it, I've got it. Sure you can manage all that?" Sirius laughed. Harry grumbled at him and pulled a face, but gave him another, longer hug.
"Have a good time at school, stay out of too much trouble but don't be boring, write to me every week, oh God stay away from that Riddle boy-"
"I will be fine, Sirius, thank you. You don't need to worry, and yes, I will write to you. See you at Christmas!"
"Harry seriously be careful-"
"The train's about to leave, I will be extremely careful, got to go! I'll write to you!" With that, Harry finally ran to the train, where Ron was waiting at a door.
"Blimey, Sirius can be even worse than my mum sometimes, and that's saying something. We've got to find a carriage now, or there won't be any space."
They hurried down the train, then stopped in relief when they saw that Hermione and Ginny were in a carriage by themselves, with their bags spread over the seats to save them for the boys. Ginny was really only there because she knew Draco would drop in to see Harry and Tom, but it was nice to have her company.
Hermione gave them a look when they sat down.
"What took you two so long? We nearly lost this carriage to Justin Finch-Fletchley, of all people!"
"Sirius," the boys said in unison. Hermione rolled her eyes, but let them off.
Three minutes later, the train started moving, and after they waved off their parents/panicking godparent, they started talking. It was sixth year, a year of relative rest sandwiched between OWLs and NEWTs. Their OWLs' results had just been delivered to them, and they discussed their OWLs together, with Ginny listening nervously (she was entering fifth year).
"But I thought I would get higher in Ancient Runes! I know I could have done better!" Hermione fretted.
"Hermione, you literally got full marks, you have no reason to worry," Ron rolled his eyes.
"But it's not the marks I got that matter, it's the four marks I dropped! I'll never be able to face the teachers again!"
"Oh give it a rest, like the rest of us did anywhere near as good..."
Harry stopped listening, content to let Hermione and Ron argue and Ginny fret. To be quite honest, his mind was on "that Riddle boy"- Tom had usually come to their carriage by now. He never sat anywhere else; Harry was being honest when he said he was Tom's only friend. He could have had more friends, heaven knew Draco spent all his time hanging around him, but for some reason he only put up with Harry. Harry wasn't sure why: what with Grindelwald attacking Hogwarts solely to kill Harry last year (Harry had received all the credit for fending him off, but Tom was the only one who had actually done anything. Harry's first thought had been oh no he's hot when he first saw Grindelwald and his next thoughts had all been panicky static as he realised that McGonagall was in hospital and therefore too far away to help him against Grindelwald. Hogwarts would have been annihilated if Tom hadn't called Nagini to the rescue) and Sirius' undisguised loathing of him (Tom), plus Harry's general awkwardness combined with a short temper, Harry wasn't the best of friends.
As if his thoughts had summoned him (Tom did occasionally seem vaguely demonic) the teen himself walked in, already in uniform. Dropping down next to Harry by the window, he stared at nothing enigmatically and acted as if the whole carriage hadn't gone silent when he walked in. Hermione was the first to break the silence, quipping with a raised eyebrow, "Took your time, Riddle. Got lost on the way to the platform and flew here on your magic snake, I suppose?"
Tom smiled with naked distaste at Hermione. "Actually I was hiding in the bathroom, putting off your company for as long as possible."
Ron and Hermione weren't exactly Tom's biggest fans, and vice versa. Tom was in Slytherin, and didn't try to hide that he spent most of his time plotting to bump off various annoying students (Harry always persuaded him not to follow through), plus being top in all of his classes, which infuriated Hermione, as he was her only competitor for cleverest student in the year. Ron being an honest, straightforward person, Tom's constant scheming and general slyness didn't exactly endear the two to each other. They only put up with each other for Harry (Ginny was another story entirely. Not for Harry, not even for one of of her brothers would she have put up with Tom Riddle, but Draco worshipped him, and so, due to her massive crush on said Draco, she made an effort to be civil).
As the train journey went on, Draco, who never stayed in one train carriage, popped in several times to suck up to Tom and blush at Ginny. The third time, he stayed for rather a long time, flirting with Ginny and occasionally trying to catch Tom's attention, until Ron cleared his throat and made meaningful glances towards his wand and Draco's neck. Draco rolled his eyes, but decided not to pick a fight with his crush's brother, and left. Harry heard Tom mumble "thank God" under his breath, and kicked him. Tom looked up, favouring Harry with a rare smile.
"What? He's annoying, and he doesn't know when to give up. Followers I can tolerate, but friends I won't have."
Harry decided not to ask what they were, then, and went back to arguing with Ron about the merits of the Chudley Cannons. When the train stopped, they crowded into a thestral-drawn carriage, with Tom and subsequently Draco squeezing in with the four. Harry sat between Tom and Ron, with Draco opposite Tom to hopefully prevent any fights. They managed to get through the carriage ride with only one death threat (Ron to Draco) and Tom wasn't even involved in it. Harry was proud.
They headed into the Hall afterwards, with Tom and Draco peeling off to the Slytherin table and Ginny going to sit with her friends. Harry, Ron and Hermione tried to sit as close to the front as possible, to see the poor squirming first years as they were Sorted, with Seamus and Dean grinning at them as they tried to do the same. They found Neville in a premium position almost at the head of the table, but still hidden behind others from the teachers, and hurriedly sat down next to him, feigning extreme pleasure to see him as their reason for sitting down so quickly. To be fair, Neville's face lighting up did then make Harry feel a bit bad.
Gryffindor got a few kids Harry considered to have Quidditch potential, but not many. Most of them were weedy, pale-faced brats; speaking as someone who had once been a first year himself, Harry knew that none of them really had personalities. Personalities started to develop in the second year, and only finished in third year. Luckily, as Quidditch Captain, he only needed to evaluate their sporting skills. He had been offered the position of Prefect as well, but due to the looming threat of Grindelwald he had been advised to turn it down as it could cause too much pressure, and had done so. Hilariously, Ron had subsequently been offered the position. He was going to turn it down, but Harry persuaded him to reconsider.
After the Sorting, they ate, then went to their rooms. Harry wanted to crash straight away, but the other boys wanted to catch up with each other, so he and Ron ended up playing several magical card games with the others. Neville continually lost, to no one's surprise, and Ron won most of them, with Dean winning most of the rest. They put away the card games and when Hermione came running in, breathless, they were laughing and talking.
"Harry-" she wheezed. "You have to- now- it's Draco."
Harry looked at her. "I dislike Draco intensely," Ron coughed furiously, "why would I be needed?"
"Because Tom got involved."
"Shit." Harry said succinctly, and with Ron at his heels he sprinted downstairs after Hermione.
Outside the portrait of the Fat Lady, a bunch of Gryffindors and were yelling at Draco, who was yelling right back. Tom was surrounded by another bunch of Gryffindors, and though not yelling, was clearly extremely pissed. Harry decided to tackle Tom first, and pushed his way through the crowd.
A fifth year Harry vaguely recognised, Something Miller, was right in front of Tom bawling something about snakey filth. Tom said something extremely rude about Miller's mother, and the general state of her marriage to Miller's father, and Something Miller let out a howl and tried to wrap his hands around Tom's neck, with Harry stepping in just in time to stop him.
"Now, what's this about?" Harry tried to sound calm and reasonable, and then backed away slightly when both ??? Miller and Tom gave him death stares worthy of Tom's cat, Pettigrew.
"Riddle here was trying to get into the Gryffindor common room, which is never going to happen, because Slytherin bastards aren't worthy of stepping foot in our rooms. He-"
"I couldn't actually give a fuck about your rooms," Tom interrupted icily. "It's the principle of the thing-" here Miller tried to interrupt and failed because Tom just raised his voice, "now, Draco here was trying to get in to see Ginny, and I for one would be disgusted if they got together, but the fact that you Gryffindors think you're so much better than everyone else, and no one else is allowed in your rooms, incited within me a natural desire to crush this pig-headed stupidity. You're all arrogant prats, and despite the fact no one wants to visit you, they should be allowed to."
"#rantover," Harry mumbled, earning him another glare from Tom.
Miller growled at Tom and stepped forward, but Harry pushed him back. "Calm down, Miller. He has a little bit of a point and besides, you're not going to listen to a Slytherin, are you?" He turned to Tom. "And you're not going to provoke him anymore, are you?"
Miller snarled. "See, this is my point. He deliberately provokes people. And besides, Potter, you may be the Chosen One but we all know you're too partial to Slytherins to be a true Gryffindor. Am I right?" He looked round at his group, but nobody was agreeing with him. Aside from the sound of Draco screaming at the other Gryffindors further down the corridor, there was silence. Harry was popular enough that nobody really wanted to pick a fight with him, even if it meant walking away from a Slyhterin. Miller, realising that he was on his own, grumbled loudly and stalked away towards the common rooms.
"Right," Harry sighed, also turning back to the Fat Lady. But Tom cleared his throat and nodded his head towards Draco, giving Harry a meaningful glance.
"Oh, come on," Harry protested. "Since when have we cared about Draco? I want to go relax and pretend to myself that I'm going to do homework."
Tom rolled his eyes. "You're the Chosen One, you're supposed to look out for the little people. And we haven't even got any homework yet. Besides, you're the only person with enough social status to stop it. If you don't step in, it could go on for hours."
Harry let out an exaggerated groan of resignation, and Tom frowned. "Also, why am I suddenly the nice one?"
"Draco's a big boy, he can look out for himself. And I am the nice one. I'm just also inherently lazy."
Tom snorted. "Too true. Now get Malfoy out of this mess."
Harry reluctantly made his way towards the other group of Gryffindors, pushing his way through the crowd to Hermione and Ron, where Draco was yelling at two fifth years and a sixth year, while a few fourth years occasionally chimed in "Fight! Fight!". Harry stepped forward, and the fourth years and one of the fifth years quietened down. However, Matt Hannigan and the other fifth year kept yelling roughly the same things that Miller had been yelling at Tom, at Draco. Harry stepped between the three, but Matt simply pushed him to the side, albeit lightly (they shared the special bond of doing Potions homework at three am the day it was due in the common room together) and kept yelling that Draco should never even try to set foot in the Gryffindor rooms. Draco's face grew redder and redder until his hair looked sheet white compared to his crimson complexion. Finally, he exploded.
"MANGY LION SCUM, TRYING TO TELL A MALFOY WHAT TO DO," he howled. "I TRY TO PAY A VISIT TO MY GIRLFRIEND, AND YOU-"
"WHAT?" Ron roared, suddenly joining in. "YOUR GIRLFRIEND? MY SISTER?!"
"Oh, for the love of Salazar," Harry heard Tom mutter. He turned around just in time to see Tom walk away, ignoring Harry's look of betrayal.
Ron shoved Matt and the fifth year to the side and shoved his face close to Draco's.
"How bloody dare you," he fumed. "My sister, my own sister, and you dare put your filthy hands on her! I swear, Malfoy, I will kill you-"
"Ron!" Ginny had come out of the common room to see what was going on. "Ron, what are you- oh, hello, Dra- Malfoy," she blushed.
This made Ron even angrier, adding insult to to injury. He opened his mouth to continue roaring, but Hermione gave him a quick jab in the stomach and he doubled over wheezing. Draco took the opportunity to try to move closer to Ginny, though the crowd prevented him from moving too far. She too moved towards him, and as she was a Gryffindor and the crowd wanted drama, she was able to move through the people with ease.
Ron started forward again, having recovered. "How long has this-" he motioned between Draco and Ginny with a disgusted expression, "been going on? Because I had no clue about it."
"That was sort of the point, Ron," Ginny said icily. "Now could we please continue this elsewhere? In case you didn't know, all of Gryffindor is watching you make a fool of yourself."
Harry could practically feel the anger radiating from his friend, but Ron had to concede the logic of her point. He stormed over to the Fat Lady, mentioning for Draco and Ginny to follow. Draco didn't look like he particularly wanted to talk to Ron, if the disdain on his face was anything to go by, and someone protested against a Slytherin going in their rooms, but Ginny squeezed Draco's hand and Ron turned and glowered at the protester, and so the crowd went dejectedly on with their day and Ron, Hermione, Harry, Ginny and Draco went up to Ron and Harry's room, kicking Neville out without a backward glance (though Harry did feel vaguely guilty about it).
"Right," Ron was breathing very heavily and his ears had gone red, signs that he would explode at a moment's notice. "I just want to know, Malfoy, why you would ever, ever, think I would let you date my sister. She's only fifteen-"
"I'm sixteen, Ron, and you don't get to decide who I date. You don't even know how old I am; how could you know who's right for me? You're so controlling." Ginny interrupted furiously.
"And you're too young to decide who you date! Wait until you're out of school-"
"Out of school?" Ginny howled, and Ron started yelling back.
Harry stopped paying attention and leant back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Hermione prodded him and mouthed Quidditch timetables with a frown. Harry waved her off and pointed at the battered clock; it was nearly time to go to bed. She rolled her eyes.
Subsequently, Harry spent the next ten minutes staring at the ceiling while Hermione did extra work she had somehow already asked for, and Draco awkwardly looked anywhere but Ginny and Ron. Finally, Draco cleared his throat and pointed out that he needed to go back to his dormitory or he would be locked out. He then scowled and said he didn't need permission, and walked out anyway after saying goodnight to Ginny, with Ron screeching "we will have WORDS, Malfoy!!" after him. Hermione waved Neville back in regally (he had been awkwardly waiting outside, wanting to go to bed) and left for her room too.
Ginny began to leave as well, but Ron grabbed her sleeve and said,
"Seriously. Be careful. He is a Malfoy."
Ginny rolled her eyes and started to walk off, but then Ron said "Ginny," in a worried tone, and she softened a bit.
"I know what I'm doing, Ron. I'll be fine."
He sighed, and she left, and Neville cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Soooo... do I pretend I didn't hear anything?"
Ron looked at him weirdly. "Uh, yeah."
Neville mumbled "ok" under his breath dejectedly and for the third time that day Harry felt bad and did nothing about it.
Then Dean and Seamus walked in and started chatting, and Harry was overcome by a sudden sense of déjà vu- the term always started like this. He felt a wave of peace and familiarity roll over him and walked into Ron as he reminisced. Ron kicked him lightly and the four of them started playing cards again, with Neville fluttering in the background about how he wanted to go to bed. Finally, he gave in and joined the game, and lost again.
After several rounds of cards, the boys finally started to go to bed. Dean turned out the lights, and Harry finally began to drift off, exhausted. His last thought was that he had a lot to tell Tom.